Not the Right Bullets
The sidebar “Whitworth’s Better Bullet,” on P. 49 of the December issue, contains a number of common errors. The projectile you labeled as a Whitworth bullet is rather very likely a bullet for the Vandenburg Volley Gun. Nearly all of these bullets have been recovered from Fort Fisher, N.C., where there was at least one Vandenburg gun.
Collectors have long called these “double-ended Whitworths,” without addressing the fact that the design would neither fit the hexagonal bore when loaded nor expand to fit it when fired. The projectile labeled “B” above is indeed a Whitworth bullet, but it is a composite fitted/Minié-base variety not known to have been used in the Civil War. The Whitworth bullets used by the Confederacy, both imported and manufactured, were of the ordinary cylindrical type with a shallow, hollow base.
The projectile labeled as a generic “Minié ball” is actually an E.D. Williams patent bullet, a three-piece bullet that achieved expansion in a manner entirely different from a Minié’s hollow-base bullet.
The Whitworth rifle was certainly the most expensive firearm manufactured for Civil War soldiers, but Samuel Colt was the most successful in marketing and profiteering. He managed to sell Colt revolvers that cost $12.50 to produce to the War Department for $25 each. Colt knew how to schmooze, presenting generals and politicians with engraved pistols that promoted goodwill and military contracts. Only the production of lower-priced Remington revolvers forced Colt to lower his prices later.
Mixed Views on McClellan
I enjoyed Edward Bonekemper’s article “General Disobedience” in the December 2010 issue. Bonekemper presents convincing evidence that General George McClellan purposely disobeyed orders and undermined General John Pope. The article downplays, however, another aspect of this unfortunate episode, namely McClellan’s exaggerated fears that the Confederates were possibly planning to attack the nation’s capital.
On August 28, 1862, McClellan informed General-in-Chief Henry Halleck that various sources were reporting “the enemy with 120,000 men intend advancing on the forts near Arlington and Chain Bridge, with a view of attacking Washington & Baltimore.” As McClellan confirmed in a subsequent letter to his wife, “[a] rumor got out that Lee was advancing rapidly on the Chain Bridge with 150,000 men….I did not get 5 minutes consecutive sleep all night—so thick were the telegrams!”
Always cautious and inclined to imagine worst-case scenarios where he was outnumbered, McClellan seemed to believe that General Robert E. Lee might be trying to get his army between Pope and Washington. McClellan’s paranoia about Lee’s forces may at least in part explain why he held back the II and VI corps until the last possible minute. He was determined to keep the capital safe, even if in his twisted logic that involved leaving Pope to fend for himself. I am far from a McClellan apologist, but Bonekemper’s article seems to overlook any plausible justification for McClellan’s decisions at the time.
While Ed Bonekemper is generally correct that August 1862 was a dark episode in McClellan’s career, his analysis seems to be based on a presumption that transferring tens of thousands of men to northern Virginia was merely a matter of will rather than a complex operation that required time to plan and execute and could not just be improvised on the spot.
Moreover, he neglects critical events in the campaign, in particular what happened to General George Taylor’s command at Bull Run Bridge, which provided a fairly vivid suggestion that throwing troops out to Pope was not without its hazards. Understanding these matters is essential, not to exonerate McClellan, but to fully understand the entire episode and fairly assess the general’s conduct.
Ethan S. Rafuse
Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
I thought George McClellan was a man who loved his men and was loved back. Bonekemper’s article sheds an irrevocable dark shadow over McClellan. His visions of gaining greater fame because of Union defeats and defiance of reasonable orders are beyond shocking. He cannot be called incompetent because he saw it coming. He cannot be called treasonous because he didn’t actively help the enemy. He should not, however, go down as a lovable loser but as one of the few men in the war who fought not on principles, but only for himself.
Brandon M. O’Connor
Grand Island, N.Y.
Not Buying It
In a December 2010 letter, Travis Collins objected to Gary Gallagher’s “Unionist propaganda” being shoved down his throat, but I object to ignorance. Mr. Collins is ignorant of the fact that slavery steadily grew from 1800 to 1860, and was still growing when the Civil War began. There were more than 1.25 million slaves in 1820, 2.5 million in 1840 and more than 3.75 million in 1860. How can any intelligent person declare “slavery was dying out,” as Mr. Collins claims?
The Crater As Slave Revolt
I was very disappointed in Kevin Levin’s October 2010 article on the execution of black Union soldiers by the Confederate Army after the Battle of the Crater during the Petersburg siege. Mr. Levin gives quite a good accounting that explains the motivation of the Confederate troops. However, he utterly fails to differentiate between explanation and excuse.
The Confederate troops perpetrated a war crime—there is no other way to describe the wanton murder of captured American soldiers in uniform.
Kevin Levin responds: Mr. Kay was apparently left with the impression that I had excused the actions of Confederates at the Crater. Nothing could be further from the truth. My essay was intended as an explanation of what happened and why, and should not be interpreted in any way as condoning or condemning what took place. It may be helpful to point out that this article is part of a much larger project on the Crater and historical memory, titled Remembering Murder As War: The Battle of the Crater.
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Originally published in the February 2011 issue of Civil War Times. To subscribe, click here.